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Full text of "A story about a real man"

B. POLEVOI
54
it lowered its muzzle, wagged its tail guiltily, snatched
up the piece of meat and ran behind the ash heap with
its tail between its legs.
Away! Away from here, as quickly, as possible!
Taking advantage of the last streaks of light, not choos-
ing any road, but going straight across the snow, Alexei
crawled into the forest, almost instinctively moving in
the direction from which the sounds of artillery fire were
now distinctly heard. They drew him like a magnet, and
the nearer he approached them the greater was their
power of attraction.
12
And so Alexei crawled on for another two or three
days. He had lost count of time; everything had merged
into one continuous chain of automatic effort. At times
sleep, or, perhaps, oblivion, overcame him. He fell asleep
as he crawled, but the force that drew him on to the
east was so strong that even in this state of oblivion he
continued to crawl slowly until he collided with a tree or
bush, or until his hand slipped and he fell face downward
in the melting snow. All his will, all his vague thoughts
were concentrated on one spot like focussed light: crawl
on, keep moving, moving onwards, at all costs.
On his way he inspected every bush in the hope of
finding another hedgehog. His food consisted of berries
he found under the snow, and moss. Once he came upon
a huge ant-hill that towered up in the forest like a
haystack, washed and combed by the rain. The ants were
still asleep and their habitation seemed dead. Alexei
plunged his hand into this soft stack and withdrew it
covered with ants tenaciously clinging to the skin. He
began to eat these insects with great relish, feeling in
his dry, cracked mouth the spicy, tart taste of formic acid.
He plunged his hand into the hill again and again until
the whole population was roused by this unexpected in-
vasion.
The tiny insects fiercely defended themselves; they
stung Alexei's hand, lips and tongue, they got under his
.flying suit and stung his body. But the burning sensation
was pleasant if anything, the bite of the formic acid acted